No Stormont return unless Sinn Fein drops pre-condition: Campbell

Arlene Foster's attempt to broach a compromise on the Irish language last week was rejected by Sinn Fein
Arlene Foster's attempt to broach a compromise on the Irish language last week was rejected by Sinn Fein

A senior DUP MP has warned that power-sharing talks will prove fruitless as long as Sinn Fein continues to hold on to its “pre-condition” of a stand-alone Irish language act.

The remarks from Gregory Campbell come as parties prepare to resume negotiations aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Last week, Sinn Fein swiftly rejected an offer by DUP leader Arlene Foster, aimed at ending the current political stalemate centred on the Irish language issue.

In a hard-hitting statement, Mr Campbell warned “there will be no Stormont” if republicans are not prepared to relinquish their demand for a stand-alone act.

He added: “Gerry Adams has emphatically stated that if there is no Irish language act, there will be no Stormont.

“What this sounds like is that DUP is looking for something that Sinn Fein is not; ie devolution.

“They appear to be saying; ‘Give us what we want and we will give you what you want’.”

Reiterating his party’s pledge that the DUP will never support a stand-alone act, Mr Campbell added: “If we take Mr Adams at face value and he means what he says, then there will be no Stormont; it is as simple as that.

“We can drag it out and make it more painful by continuing to negotiate, but at the end of the day we have spelt out our position repeatedly.”

The East Londonderry MP said it was now crucial for the DUP to determine whether Sinn Fein was prepared to set aside its “pre-condition”, as the parties gather for the next round of talks.

“We will have to establish in the first week or so, beyond any doubt, whether Sinn Fein intends to change its stance or continue on its current trajectory,” he added.

“The DUP have made it clear that we don’t have any pre-conditions, so until we get to a point where Sinn Fein don’t either, there will be no movement.”

Last Thursday, Mrs Foster made an apparent attempt to end the stand-off between the two main parties.

The DUP leader had proposed an immediate restoration of the Executive with a pledge that the DUP would back some kind of language-related legislation, the contents of which could be negotiated to a pre-determined timetable after politicians take their seats.

Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, immediately rejected the overture from Mrs Foster, claiming the DUP leader had “not listened to or acknowledged” the reasons why the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness had resigned.

When asked for his thoughts on Mrs Foster’s speech and her apparent move to offer Sinn Fein an olive branch, Mr Campbell said: “She is trying to get the institutions back up and running first and foremost, and then progress the Irish language issue on a mutually beneficial basis.”

Criticising Sinn Fein’s swift rejection of the proposal, Mr Campbell said: “It indicates to us that they are adament they will not go back into government unless their pre-condition is met.

“They are playing the long game, looking beyond the next election in the Republic.

“They think that if they have a good election in the south, the dynamic will somehow change in Northern Ireland.

“Even if there was a Sinn Fein president in the republic, it would not change anything here.”

Responding to the DUP MP’s comments, a Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “Gregory Campbell is appearing like the boy with his finger in the dyke trying to stop the tide of equality, rights and respect.

“He is hardly the man to be speaking on the need for an Irish language act. Gregory goes out of his way to cause offence and demean those who love and speak Irish.

“The DUP would be much better served focusing on the discrimination by their ministers and representatives against the Irish language which contributed to the collapse of the political institutions.”

The NIO confirmed that a series of bilateral talks will take place on Monday from 11am, with the secretary of state due to meet the DUP and Sinn Fein in the morning.